Elaborate funeral plans have been set in motion in South Africa following the death of the country’s revered first black president Nelson Mandela.
The memorial, expected to last ten days, will be an unparalleled event in South Africa’s history, drawing a plethora of foreign dignitaries of every stripe, royals and a smattering of celebrities.
South African President Jacob Zuma ordered the nation's flags to be flown at half-mast beginning today and to remain that way until after Mandela's funeral, which he announced would be held next Sunday.
Hours after his death last night, a black SUV-type vehicle containing Mandela's coffin, draped in South Africa's flag, pulled away from Mandela's home after midnight, escorted by military motorcycle outriders, to take the body to a military morgue in Pretoria, the capital.
Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Mr Mandela and former archbishop of Cape Town is expected to hold the service, which will be attended by all living US presidents, past and present.
Counting himself among the millions influenced by Nelson Mandela, President Obama mourned the death of the anti-apartheid hero with whom he shares the distinction of being his nation's first black president.
'He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,' Obama said in a somber appearance at the White House.
Several celebrities who had personal ties to the late great leader, such as Oprah Winfrey and U2 frontman Bono, are also expected to attend the service.
Preparations for funeral are expected to bring the country of 53 million to a virtual standstill.
The sheer number of dignitaries, including numerous heads of state, is sure to spell a logistical nightmare for the South African government, which will be tasked with providing air-tight security during the solemn event.
According to several sources involved in planning the state funeral, the 10-day occasion will combine both Western traditions and those of Mandela's native clan, the Thembu.
At some stage during days one to four, Thembu elders are expected to gather for a first ceremony called 'the closing of the eyes' either at his home or in the mortuary.
After the ceremony, it is believed his body will be embalmed at the mortuary, thought to be a military hospital in Pretoria.
No formal public events are expected to take place until day five, December 10, when mourners will have a chance to say goodbye to their beloved father figure during a service at the 94,000-capacity Johannesburg soccer stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup.
It is not clear whether Mandela's casket will be taken there.
On days six to eight, December 11 to 13, the anti-apartheid hero's body is earmarked to lie in state in a glass-topped coffin at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was inaugurated as president on May 10, 1994.
On day nine, plans have been made for a military aircraft to fly Mr Mandela to Mthatha, the main town in the South African province of Eastern Cape.
His casket will then be taken by the military on a gun carriage to Qunu, his home village, where the former leader spent his childhood years.
To mark the formal passing of responsibility to his family, the South African flag that is expected to drape his coffin will be replaced by a traditional Xhosa blanket.
Later, ANC leaders, local chiefs and Mandela's family are expected to gather for a private night vigil.
On the final day, Mandela will finally be laid to rest in the grounds of his family home in Qunu, where thousands of people, including heads of state will gather for the state funeral.
Mr Mandela often spoke with great love of his first home where his family members, including his children who predeceased him, rest.
The family plot is located just a few yards from the home he shared with his mother as a child and the one which he built following his release from Victor Verster Prison.
He loved Qunu 'in the unconditional way a child loves his first home' and spent holidays and special occasions here.
The protocol for the funeral preparations was drawn up more than a year ago, around the time when Mr Mandela's health took a turn for the worse, and it may be altered in the coming days.
Mourners will be able to share their thoughts about Mandela’s passing in condolence books that will be made available in all foreign missions, the Nelson Mandela Foundation headquarters and other institutions, according to The Guardian, which has obtained a copy of the protocol.
It has also been reported that the South African Government is in talks with the BBC team that filmed the Royal Wedding in 2011 to get help with the world wide broadcast of the funeral of a global icon.
Guests at the funeral will include Mr Obama, the first lady and their daughters. Bill and Hillary Clinton, who knew Mr Mandela well, are also expected to make an appearance.
The scale and significance of the planned funeral is already being compared to the 2005 service for Pope John Paul II, which was attended by 2million people, among them five kings and 70 presidents.